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Fluorescent foam-rubber gargantua gets another consumerist howl

For most intents and purposes, sequels should be considered a genre all their own. They are not, generally, "about" anything but their precursory movie, the receipts it gathered, and the infantile comfort audiences experience in revisiting favorite characters whether or not they are inhabiting a film worth the attention of an encephalopathic hen. Thus, The Whole Ten Yards, say, isn't a comedy but a sequel, just as Shrek 2 is a sequel and not a . . . whatever the hell the first one was—a fluorescent foam-rubber gargantua spawned in a fructose-stoked nightmare from the modest pages of William Steig's sketchy little book, badly drafted, opportunistic, and cross-marketed into a rapacious consumerist howl. Perhaps because it barely qualifies as a film on its own, Shrek 2 is more easily tolerated—it fulfills its scant sequel obligations without breaking a sweat, and thereafter concerns itself with wacky non sequitur.

Shrek himself, composed of swollen-cute Babe Ruth–ness and Mike Myers's limp and context-less burr, remains this plasticene universe's least interesting creation. The plot he waddles through is a haphazard jerry-rigging of cross purposes, betrayals, accidents, and impromptu gags, centering on Shrek's in-law problems, and a scheming fairy godmother's plans for Princess Fiona—now Mrs. Shrek—to wed her son, Charming. Pretensions toward cohesion and character empathy are scuttled in favor of broad-barn gaggery: The in-laws' kingdom is a Mother Goose Hollywood, complete with punning product placements and Oscar night red carpet; Charming is a Rupert Everett–voiced showbiz fop; a seedy gin mill has Captain Hook playing a Tom Waits song on the piano and a headless man burping beer from an abyss between his shoulders. As before, exec producer Jeffrey Katzenberg—apparently still peeved about that half-billion in Disney profits he didn't get from Mike Eisner—mocks Magic Kingdom tropes (Beauty and the Beast takes a slight flogging), other movies are pointlessly quoted (look for the LOTR-isms and then wonder why you bothered), and song interludes are so ubiquitous they virtually play over one another.

Swollen-cute Babe Ruth–ness: Shrek and Puss
photo: Dream Works Pictures
Swollen-cute Babe Ruth–ness: Shrek and Puss

Some of the buckshot hits its target: Shrek's second sidekick, assassin-turned-comrade Puss in Boots, is voiced by Antonio Banderas as an outrageously mock-dramatic Spaniard with most of the pig-pile screenplay's best toss-offs, and Eddie Murphy's Donkey still has the right timing to go with his undersized eyes and oversized teeth. The movie flirts with a certain variety of communal joy when the Big Bad Wolf, Three Pigs, Three Blind Mice, et al., show up for the climactic showdown—a brief Mission: Impossible rescue that involves getting Pinocchio to grow his nose may be this skit-mess's reckless high point. That is, if you can resist the redoubtable spectacle of Puss heaving a hair ball in mid duel.

 
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